On Jan. 28 1986, President Ronald Reagan was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address but a tragic event changed his plans.
Earlier that day, the nation watched in stunned horror as the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded on take-off, killing seven crew members including Christa McAuliffe, an astronaut and the first teacher in space.
With Americans reeling, Reagan scrapped his planned remarks and instead addressed the nation from the Oval Office. His remarks were short, compared to what his State of the Union would have been, but poignant and considered the gold standard of such speeches by those who wrote for presidents.
"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives," Reagan said. "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"
Reagan was quoting from the poem, "High Flight," written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr, an aviator and poet who died serving in World War II.
Reagan wanted to comfort a shocked nation but he specifically wanted to speak to the nation's schoolchildren, many of whom were watching the shuttle launch live in their classrooms to see first teacher in space.
"And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons," Reagan said. "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them."
President George W. Bush was never known for his oratory skills but he earned praise from the nation and pundits for remarks he made in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Three days after the terrorist attacks, at a prayer service at the National Cathedral, Bush spoke about the heroes in New York, Washington and on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania and called upon the nation to stand together in a time of great sorrow and anger.
"It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of a nation as well. In this trial, we have been reminded, and the world has seen, that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave," Bush said.
Later that day he delivered impromptu remarks that defined the early part of his presidency. Speaking to rescue workers on top of a pile of rubble at Ground Zero, Bush did exactly what several speechwriters say is critical in a time of crisis – bring the nation together and demonstrate leadership.
"I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you," Bush said to the workers. "And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
The Oklahoma City bombing came at a pivotal point in President Bill Clinton's first term. Democrats were swept out of power on Capitol Hill just six months before that and Clinton found himself defending his relevancy. Some say that Clinton's public handling of the tragedy perhaps turned around his presidency.